©Adrienne Pitts/Lonely Planet

Western Estonia & the Islands

One of the Baltic’s most alluring regions, the west coast of Estonia encompasses forest-covered islands, verdant countryside and seaside villages slumbering beneath the shadows of picturesque medieval castles.

Pine forests and juniper groves cover Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, Estonia’s largest islands. Dusty roads loop around them, passing desolate stretches of coastline, with few signs of development aside from 19th-century lighthouses and old wooden windmills – both emblems of the islands. Here you’ll find peaceful settings for hiking, horse riding or simply touring through the countryside in search of hidden stone churches and crumbling fortresses – ruins left behind by pagan Estonian warriors, German knights and Soviet military planners.

Saaremaa, the largest and most visited of the islands, boasts spa resorts, a magnificent castle and a pretty ‘capital’ that comes to life during the summer months. It’s also the departure point for the wildlife-rich islands of Vilsandi National Park.

On the mainland, Haapsalu is an enchanting but ragged town that was once a resort for 19th-century Russian aristocrats. The jewel of its Old Town is a 14th-century bishop’s castle, today the setting for open-air festivals and summer concerts.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Western Estonia & the Islands.